Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 18


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1110

Julia Hoffman encounters the world of 1840, where an aged Ben Stokes becomes a new ally, Quentin’s ancestor is missing at sea with his son, Tad, and his paralyzed brother, Gabriel, is scheming to gain control of the family fortunes in the escaped and insane Daniel’s will. She disguises herself to fit in and is promptly assaulted by a mysterious, caped figure.

This is a tiny masterpiece of tone, both consistent and surprising. Following the darkest and most apocalyptic episode of the series, 1110 finds now-seasoned time traveler, Julia Hoffman, in the year 1840. Excluding 1995 (which was too brief for a honeymoon), the other time jaunts begin with deceptive sunniness. They’re playgrounds of innocence (or harmlessly naughty larceny at the worst) with evil lurking around the edges, hardly commensurate to the threats that will later emerge. Sure, Barnabas gets voodoo-choked pretty quickly, but it’s against a background of overwhelming optimism. 1897 has colorful and charming gypsies and a retinue of other cartoonish weirdos. Quentin, now talking, is an instantly beguiling rascal. But 1840? With a dark and sweaty color palette, hideously Jack Kirby-esque makeup on Ben Stokes, and intense, threatening, angry, mournful characters, we are thrown into a fire that would very likely produce the kind of ghost who would later order armageddon on Collinwood. There is no charm here, although Gabriel will eventually develop a marvelously mordant sense of humor, allowing the luminous Christopher Pennock to shine even brighter than ever. Overall, this is a Collinwood in a cycle of decay. As mentioned, Ben is a mass of age and tumors. Daniel is mad. Gabriel’s body is (seemingly) half-dead. The only capable members of the household we meet -- Samantha and Carrie -- are paralyzed themselves, only from within, with mourning. Julia arrives at an implosion of wildly unhappy people. Solving the mystery of Gerard will be difficult enough. Just making it through a day with these already-paranoid grouches, cretins, and lost souls will be just as difficult. It continues a storyline that spoon-feeds you nothing. Neither viewers nor time travelers can claim the cockiness of experience. It can be a challenge to watch because of its dark, unhappy intensity, and yet the benefit to the characters is proportionately positive. Grayson Hall, now the show’s heroine, takes on the mantle with a confidence that never lampoons itself into cockiness. If ‘humanity’ can be synonymous with something other than frailty, then she nails it.

Virginia Vestoff joins the cast as Quentin’s widow, Samantha, and is the last major female lead to round out the company. At this period, performing simultaneously in 1776 at night would not have been out of the question, and that alone is an impressive feat. I have mixed feelings about her, otherwise. To her credit, Vestoff has a furrowed sense of restlessness that adds to the wonky feel of the storyline. She would not reappear in the 1841PT sequence, and that may be for the best. What she adds in intensity, it could be argued she lacks in dimension. Although her Broadway pedigree is prestigious, it takes a tad more range and theatrical relish to mesh with the established, DS ensemble. I admire Vestoff a great deal, but as a DARK SHADOWS regular, she’s a wonderful Abigail Adams. No saltpeter required.

On this day in 1970, Grayson Hall celebrated her 48th birthday. Given that she leads this inaugural episode of a sequence celebrating heroism and mystery, it is an apt gift to her from its writer, husband Sam Hall

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